Crisis memes are the ghoulish and satirical posts that spread through social media concurrently with serious journalistic reportage. They are folk productions that respond to challenging events based on thematic and structural templates of popular online image macros. This article explores how templatability is relevant to the underpinnings, development, structure and value of crisis memes. The combination of frivolity and ghoulishness that is typical of crisis memes may be criticized for not being reasoned discourse, reinforcing cultural divides and making use of copyrighted content without permission and in ways that the copyright holder may not wish. However, the value of crisis memes lies not in their content but rather their place as a public voice that sidesteps the constraints of traditional media and as an illustration of freedom of expression that may be threatened by increasingly restrictive copyright regimes.
When writing a manuscript on crisis memes recently I decided to reference each meme as found at the site Know Your Meme (previously the Internet Meme Database). This was partially for convenience but also because the site is, in fact, set up more like a researchable archive than most meme collections.
Soon Computer rage comic
The site collects every new meme, and most memes are amusing, but it also attempta to document the history, graph the popularity, and explain the basic templating structure. As Alexis Tsotsis reports, the staff consider themselves internet folklorists in the ethnographic tradition of Alan Lomax (who chronicled the life of Woody Guthrie, among others) and are even writing a Kickstarter-funded book.
Although their online analysis is currently thin, let’s face it, it’s mainly for the lulz… and the bucks. Know Your Meme was bought for seven figures earlier this year by the Cheezburger network (the behemoth that has grown out of one of the first LOLcat collection sites).
Hmm, lucrative, self-supporting research that blends the humorous and the serious. Sounds enticing…
I don't always loot, but when I do, it's cuz I need some basmati rice - Source: Reddit
Alongside serious reportage of bad news, you’ve probably come across at least one crisis meme that treats that bad news with a dose of ghoulish humour. Why does internet social commentary take these precise forms? And why does that matter?